Separately, Mulayam Singh Yadav, head of the Socialist Party claimed rapists should be forgiven ‘mistakes’
Politicians in India’s largest and most politically important state have sparked outrage by claiming women who have sex outside of marriage should be hanged and that men who committed rape should be forgiven their “mistakes”.
In an election speech on Thursday, Mulayam Singh Yadav, head of the Socialist Party (SP), which runs the state government in Uttar Pradesh, said if he became prime minister he would scrap a recently introduced law that fixed the death penalty for rapists. Referring to a case in Mumbai where three men were sentenced to death for two gang-rapes, Mr Yadav claimed the men should not face the death penalty as it was not uncommon “for boys to make mistakes”.
“Boys will be boys. Following a girl-boy fight, the girl complains she was raped,” he said in the city of Moradabad.
Mr Yadav’s comments sparked outcry from women’s rights campaigners and commentators, as well as his political opponents. They were also denounced, though not that vocally, by the ruling Congress party, which had been long allied in the federal government with the SP in a ruling coalition.
On Friday, the 74-year-old Mr Yadav, whose son is the chief minister of sprawling, impoverished UP, appeared to backtrack on his comments.
“Many people said that my comments were right. I am against rape. Rapist should be given the most severe punishment,” he said at another rally, according to local media. “Innocent people should not be hanged. Rape is being debated in half the world. If I said this, what was wrong.”
Matters were made worse when another senior leader of the SP, whose government oversees a population of 200 million and which draws much of its support from Muslims, appeared to suggest that women who were raped might also be hanged, along with the rapist.
Questioned by the NDTV news channel about Mr Yadav’s comments, Abu Azmi said: “Rape is punishable by hanging in Islam. But here, nothing happens to women, only to men. Even the woman is guilty.”
“When the reporter questioned him further, he replied: “Any woman if, whether married or unmarried, goes along with a man, with or without her consent, should be hanged. Both should be hanged. It shouldn’t be allowed even if a woman goes by consent.”
Mr Azmi’s comments sparked further outcry, including a denunciation from his son, Farhan Azmi, who is contesting a seat in the city of Mumbai.
“I believe a rapist should be hanged a hundred times,” he said. “I have five sisters and everyone in my family believes the same.”